Key Parameters in Techno-economic Evaluation of Cross-cutting Technologies for Cost Reduction and Improved Performance in Solar Power Plants

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The assessment of a particular energy system for its techno-economic feasibility is of utmost importance if the system has to function satisfactorily at a given location. The techno-economic feasibility assessment of a particular technology begins with evaluating the technological appropriateness, economic viability and other financial incentives of a technology for it to get successfully disseminated at a given location. 

The different economic and financial aspects have also been calculated for different financial scenarios and concluded that the use of solar-energy supply systems imply no compromise for users in terms of reliability of operation and facilities compared with conventional lodging and renewable systems are mature technologies and provide alternative solutions to the increasing global energy demand problem. Total cost of investment, life cycle of solar modules, inverters, solar structures, fixed operational cost, maintenance, repairing and maintenance costs, and increasing energy costs were considered while calculating the economic viability of the system.  Thus, the costs and benefits of a solar PV system which will generate electricity are analyzed and assessed.  

Let us read more on Key Parameters in Techno-economic evaluation of cross-cutting technologies for cost reduction and improved performance in solar power plants:

Each Solar project today is designed on its own merit; merit which is largely governed by the technical and economic evaluation at the fore. Solar projects require significant upfront investment and the ROI is largely spread over a few years. Since this ROI is directly tied to the generation of power, it is the bottom-line and top-line of any income statement that has to prevail over a due course of 25+ years or the estimated ‘generative plant lifetime’ in general.

For project developers and even mid to large sized EPC developers, solar projects hence require long term visibility and most of the financial calculations are based on profits, margins, and other obligations. These lead us to projections; projections are mostly driven by some credible historical data, lots of assumptions, and finally, returns promised to investors. It hence becomes imperative to look and constantly explore opportunities to reduce costs; both; CapEx and OpEx.
We as an organization try to keep the customer interfaced with real-time feed on planned or estimated power generation (including losses) versus observed or tracked generation. This in turn draws a direct correlation to the projected cash flow and ROI we provide upfront during our sell process. With the advent of far and advanced reaching technologies, it has been observed to have shortened installation times and continuous monitoring and robotics doing the upkeep. According to us, the most commonly identified cross cutting technologies which greatly and largely impact the costs and performance can be categorized under a) Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and b) Least Cost of Energy (LCoE). Total Cost of Ownership or TCO is largely governed by direct and indirect EPC costs and the obligations that an EPC is expected to fulfill for the customer.

Chaitanya Rahul, Founder and Director, Surjaa Solar Solutions


There lies a huge value in adopting a holistic approach for transforming through technology and achieve project cost optimization

The trend of solar tariffs below INR 2 and the growing popularity of bifacial modules with the tracker, has got almost every design & engineering and investment team in the renewable sector put on their thinking caps to analyze the costs, benefits, risks, uncertainties, and timeframes to evaluate the attributes of this phenomenon.

With tariffs plummeting compounded with fierce competition on account of access to cheap finance, whether equity (foreign investors) or debt (PSUs), alluding technology advancements which hypothetically presumes to fetch handsome returns even at RE 1.99 tariff, appear attractive to developers. But it is evident by now that utility scale project bids won at INR 2 or sub-INR 2 tariffs are being conceived with plain vanilla mono facial with fixed tilts. Those project costs do not consider the cost of implementing advanced bifacial modules and trackers.

My experience of fixing trackers in domestic solar projects has not been remarkable. Trackers only prove beneficial if it is procured from OEMs with a proven track record, coupled with guaranteed uptime, MTTR, MTBF and spare management throughout the product lifecycle. And all of these are available at a premium rate, which is not enforced in OEM contracts from CAPEX perspective, leading to a gap in expectation and outcome of mounting trackers.

Secondly, Indian desert albedo and GHI is 50% and 35% lower respectively than that of the Middle East & North African (MENA) desert region. Adding the advantageous positioning of MENA w.r.t. latitude, the bifacial gain and tracker transposition gain is offset by the premium that developers pay for bifacial modules as well as trackers in India. (Please note: Applicable only for Tier 1 bankable trackers).

While discussing the trends in solar modules, we cannot help but mention monoperc, which is a norm now. Monoperc technology is intrinsically bifacial with a minor tweak. In near future, all modules in domestic solar projects would primarily use bifacial technology. More efficient modules like heterojunction and tandem may also come to be the new normal, but it is subject to investment by domestic OEMs on R&D in module technology including pervo-skites, post 40% & 25% BCD regime on modules and cells respectively. With inherent bifaciality in the modules, smart string inverters are likely to gain more traction. For “Make in India” to be a success, the Indian Government, as well as the industry, should come together for innovative means to incentivize investment in R&D.

After the experience during the pandemic, there is a huge focus by developers on making their operating assets robust, smart, automated and intelligent. String inverters are proving to be one of the smartest IoTs, through their evolving AI and ML. The technology of today has enabled the detection of individual module characteristics, its soiling level, degradation etc. In near future through Big Data Analytics and AI/ML based algorithms, prescriptive based maintenance will be the new normal, wherein all the devices, be it, module, inverter, transformer, switchgear, drone, robots, cloud cover sensors, early streamers, PPCs, etc., will adopt IoT. I strongly believe that every component involved in a solar plant will be digitized as well as digitized.

The system diagnostic tools will not only pre-emptively predict the component failure 1 or 2 weeks in advance, but also prescribe the remedy. This approach is likely to result in huge savings in opex at the same time to ensure high uptime. Such budding technologies bring in operational excellence through Big Data Analytics and close monitoring of several parameters allow assets to operate at the best possible and predictive throughput. In addition, these tools will enable extremely accurate forecasting, thus facilitating robust modeling and integration with storage, Peak power, RTC, Green hydrogen production models.

In my opinion, developers must approach cautiously before adopting new technology trends in order to have reliable assets and a sustainable revenue stream.

Sudhir Pathak, Head of Central Design & Engineering, Hero Future Energies


One of the key emerging technologies are higher wattage modules, in fact, now we have modules above 500-550 W. Now although the higher wattage module will cost more, one needs to look at the overall system cost and the BOS costs go down by increasing module wattage for a said capacity. As well as the reduction of maintenance costs involved for said capacity will go down, as the number of modules and other components will reduce. Another cross-cutting technology is in the inverter space, micro-inverters are now able to monitor module level generation and optimize them at module level instead of string levels. Let’s say we have an installation with 500 W panels with a single optimizer or inverter integrated to it – here the overall cost of the system is managed by using fewer inverters but multiple large value modules are optimized on each string. System performance and generation are not stretched as much as the modules are capable of. Whereas with micro-inverters on each 500 W panel the performance and generation over time will be a lot better, by pushing the delivery of energy on each module instead of string for the entire system.

For larger installations, especially for ground-mounted solar projects, it is becoming easier to integrate tracking to improve daily generation. The inclusion of robotic cleaning technologies for O&M of the plant will enable savings of labor and also water. As imaging technologies and the use of drones get better, it is also easier to maintain the generation of such large assets while also focusing on understanding data better to develop metrics to improve the performance of the asset. It is possible to analyze an entire 25 – 100 MWp asset with a drone and pick out where the problem areas are, focus on those for redressal quickly bringing down the time involved in data analysis from SCADA or monitoring portals to assess causes for generation reduction. There seems to be an emerging trend of these O&M technologies to improve plant performance, and it will be interesting to see how they add value to assets over time. In the rooftop space, where increasing capacity and generation value locally is more crucial the improvement of micro-inverter economics and optimizer technologies will be key players as module capacities increase. U-Solar feels that as the wattage of modules increase, this benefit in improved generation more locally will positively serve the increase in system cost from installing micro-inverters better over the lifetime of 25 years of a solar plant. The economics of these micro-inverters and optimizers improves dramatically as module sizes increase. 

Lastly, as Li-ion batteries get cheaper it will be very nice to see more adoption of solar + storage technologies to increase generation in the rooftop segment. It is projected to become even cheaper in the next few years. Giving us the opportunity in the future to generate clean energy in the day, bank it and use it whenever required.

K. R. Harinarayan, the Founder and CEO, U-Solar Clean Energy

For read complete story download SolarQuarter India March 2021 issue

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